Do Lactose Intolerance Pills Have Side Effects?

Reviewed on 9/2/2020

What Is Lactose Intolerance?

Lactose intolerance pills contain enzymes to digest the lactose (milk sugar) in dairy. They don't usually cause side effects, but you still might have digestive problems if the enzyme can't break down all the lactose in your meal.
Lactose intolerance pills contain enzymes to digest the lactose (milk sugar) in dairy. They don't usually cause side effects, but you still might have digestive problems if the enzyme can't break down all the lactose in your meal.

Lactose intolerance is a condition in which the body does not produce enough of the enzyme lactase to break down the sugars in dairy products (lactose). Lactose intolerance is more common among Asian, Native American, and black people.

Lactose intolerance is not the same as a food allergy, in which the body’s immune system reacts to the protein in dairy products, rather than the sugars. 

What Are Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance?

The symptoms of lactose intolerance in adults and babies occur only after eating dairy foods and may include:

  • Abdominal cramps or pain 
  • Bloating 
  • Gas
  • Diarrhea (often it is bulky, foamy, and watery)
  • Nausea
  • Stomach “growling” or rumbling sounds
  • Belching
  • Vomiting (more common in teens)

What Causes Lactose Intolerance?

Lactose intolerance is caused by an inability of the body to absorb lactose, the naturally occurring sugar in dairy products. The small intestine produces low levels of the enzyme lactase which breaks down lactose, so people without it are unable to digest all the lactose they consume.

The causes of an inability to produce adequate lactase include

  • Certain genetic conditions
    • Lactase nonpersistence (also called primary lactase deficiency), the most common cause of low lactase levels
    • Congenital lactase deficiency, starts at birth (rare)
    • Injury to the small intestine (secondary lactose intolerance)
  • Infections, diseases, or other conditions that injure the small intestine
  • Certain treatments
  • Premature birth

How Is Lactose Intolerance Diagnosed?

There are two ways doctor’s test for lactose intolerance. 

  • Lactose hydrogen breath test 
    • Patients drink a liquid with lactose in it and then breathe into a special machine every 30 minutes. 
    • The machine measures how much hydrogen is exhaled. 
    • People with lactose intolerance breathe out more hydrogen than normal.
  • Lactose tolerance test 
    • Patients drink a liquid with lactose in it.
    • Blood samples are taken when the test starts, and again 1 and 2 hours later. 
    • If the blood has low levels of sugar after drinking the lactose, it usually indicates lactose intolerance.

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What Are the Side Effects of Lactose Intolerance Pills?

Treatment for lactose intolerance includes: 

  • Limiting or avoiding dairy products
  • Supplementing nutrients such as calcium, vitamin D, and protein with non-dairy sources
  • Taking an enzyme supplement to help break down the lactose in dairy foods
    • Lactaid (tablets or liquid), Lactrase, LactAce, Dairy Ease, and Lactrol
    • Take enzyme supplements right before eating
    • It can be taken during a meal, but it might not work as well
    • These products can’t always break down all the lactose so some people may still have symptoms even if they take a supplement
    • Most people do not have side effects from lactose intolerance pills
    • Talk to your doctor before using enzyme supplements, as they may not be recommended for some people, such as children and pregnant or breastfeeding women

What Are Complications of Lactose Intolerance?

Complications of lactose intolerance include:

  • Nutrient deficiencies such as calcium or vitamin D, in patients who avoid dairy and do not get these nutrients in other foods
  • Osteoporosis from low levels of calcium

How Do You Prevent Lactose Intolerance?

It’s not possible to prevent developing lactose intolerance, but it is usually possible to prevent symptoms by:

  • Limiting or avoid dairy products
  • Taking an enzyme supplement to help break down the lactose in dairy foods

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Reviewed on 9/2/2020
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